Hansons Marathon Training Review

I have never been shy about trying new training programs. In fact, I have done something different for just about every Marathon I have run. The Hansons’ classic program appealed to me because I was looking to significantly increase my training efforts and I was intrigued (but also a little frightened) by the prospect of long runs capping at 16 miles. Yes, the classic Hansons’ programs cap the long run at 16 miles. More on that below. I decided to give the beginner program a try for my training for the July 14, 2014, Missoula Marathon. As a bit of background, Missoula will be my 8th marathon. My current PR is 4:28:48. Also, the Hansons’ “beginner” program is hardly one for true beginners. For many veteran recreational runners it will be a step up. This post gives an overview of the program and my success so far with it. I will do a follow up post in a few weeks with my race report.

Hansons Marathon Method book

About the Hanson Marathon Program

Anyone interested in this program really should grab a copy of the book the Hansons Marathon Method. It is a good read that sets out the philosophy and science behind the program, along with other marathon training information. It also includes the Hansons’ classic beginner and advanced programs. The beginner program caps at around 58 miles per week and the advanced in the low 60s range. The beginner program has a 4 week base building phase and the advanced starts speedwork right away instead. The Hansons’ training programs focuses on what they term “cumulative fatigue,” which essentially pushes you to your limits of adaptation without going over into overtraining, and teaches you to run on tired legs. There are 4 things that I would say are the cornerstones of the program, all of which contribute to the cumulative fatigue effect,  and they differ in some ways from other training programs. Here they are with my own personal comments:

(1) Six days of running: A  lot of programs focus on 4-5 running days per week. The Hansons method  focuses on 6 days. Further, the last day of the 6 is speedwork or strengthwork that can get rather lengthy. I learned pretty fast that it isn’t the long run that is so hard. It is the speedwork at the end of a 50+ mile week! But I also found that 6 days of running taught my body how to recover quickly, something it never was good at in the past, and I think those extra days are key to remaining injury free as well.

(2) Speedwork early, followed by strength late: Some programs flip these concepts around and put strength first. The Hansons’ program starts with speed work intervals at 5k-10k pace in the 3 mile total range, making for around 6 miles total once you add in the recovery and warm up etc. It started with 12×400 and got into longer distances with less repeats from there. After a number of weeks, it switches to the strength portion for the last half of training. The strength runs are grueling longer repeats done at marathon pace –10 seconds.  It starts with 6×1 mile and builds up to 2×3 miles and then goes back down again, ending again with 6×1 mile at taper time. Most runs end up totaling around 9.5-10 miles. On paper the sessions look pretty easy. But in practice, on tired legs, they are quite challenging.

(3) Lots of pace runs: The program includes a weekly marathon pace run, which the Hansons term a “tempo” run. It is the first run of your 6 day week.  It starts at around 5 miles and builds up to 10, adding a mile warm up and cool down. So be prepared for weeks with 10 miles of strength on Tuesday and 12 miles with 10 of pace running on Thursday and then your long run on Sunday.

(4) Three 16 mile long runs: Here is the item that most jump on with the Hanson’s program. For those running less than 65-70 miles per week or so, the long run does not go longer than 16 miles. The theory is that the long run should not be over 3 hours or more than 25-30% of the weekly mileage. Anything over that is not likely to increase fitness much, but yet has the potential to tear the body down. As a slower runner, I can attest to that aspect. I remember a few past 20 mile training runs where I was left feeling more slow to recover than anything. 16 is about right for me in terms of being a challenge, yet not knocking me out for days. And it just so happens that right now I can run 16 in just under 3 hours at my slow run pace. So, the cap at 16 did not bother me much, except for the psychological factor.  I like having a 20 or two for confidence, even if they beat me up.  What bothered me  more was the number of them. Only 3. There was a 15 and I think a 13 or 14 and few 12s, but I wanted more in the 16 range. More on that in a bit.

So, those are the program basics. If you want to learn more, again, I really do recommend the book.  Here is how I made a few adjustments, and how it has worked for me so far.

My Personal Experience with the Hansons Program

I followed the program pretty closely, but made a few adjustments. First, with the base building phase, I added miles. The program started at around 20 miles/week and had a big jump to around 40 that bothered me, so I ramped up to it more. Plus I was already running 25 miles/week or so when I started it.  I also built in a ramp up to the speedwork since that was pretty new to me. So, I added a 4×400 one week and 6×400 another and then did 10×400 instead of 12×400 the first session of the formal speedwork. In hindsight I could have done 12×400 just fine and do not recommend that change, but I did think the ramp up helped.    My other planned change was a slight decrease in miles and I removed a tempo run the week I ran a half marathon to test things. I placed my half right near the end of the speed work portion in order to set a firm marathon goal for the strength portion (the book recommends having a firm goal by then).

I had two unplanned changes. One was that I got sick and missed three days of running. Fortunately it came on a week where the long run was only 10 miles and I was able to push speedwork back a day and didn’t miss any of those sessions. The other was that I added a 4th 16 miler. I had a Saturday where I missed my run and was scheduled for 10 the next day. Given that the low number of 16s bugged me, I used that opportunity to run 16 instead of 10. I also did it as a depletion run, carrying just water with me, just to see how I could handle that. I did OK! although I felt depleted, imagine that! LOL!

Finally, my taper is going to be a bit odd. The Hansons essentially have just a 2 week taper. I prefer 3, so I might cut the miles in the easy runs that week a bit. Then I go to Montana where my running schedule will be difficult to keep up with, but I will be active hiking and such. I’ll just be playing it by ear and making sure I run something every few days or so.

Success So Far

OK here is the part that people are probably most interested in. Is it working? YES! I am frankly amazed at how the program is working so far. It is kicking my butt at times, but it sure is working! First off, remember that half I mentioned? I started out with the idea that I wanted to run a time that would predict at least a 4:15 marathon. My previous half marathon PR was 2:07:04.  I ran 1:59:34, which predicted 4:11for the marathon! That was near the end of the speedwork phase. Since then, I feel myself getting faster every week. It seems like each week my easy slow run pace gets about 5 seconds faster and, even on tired legs, I am having to really hold myself back to run slow enough. I am officially trying for 4:10 at Missoula now and will probably let myself run a pace that would get in the 4:05-4:08 range if I feel I can sustain that after I settle into the race. I am utterly amazed by this.

I’ll post an update when I get back from Missoula!